Defining Quality in Arts Education

Arts Education Demonstration Project of the Marin Community Foundation

Dancing the Unforgettable: Electric Connections at the Marin Summer Arts Institute, 2013- A. Scofield

Designing Unforgettable Learning was the title of the workshop, and the “dance group” had many new and unforgettable moments together. It was the fifth year of the summer arts institute and we were from many different backgrounds, grade levels and subject areas. We found our way by moving and creating together, and listening to the stories of those who had gone on ahead to explore with their students. Teachers from Neil Cummins shared the experience of integrating dance with their students.


  • Rebecca Prather, speech and language therapist spoke about four kinds of attention that create awareness in learning and taught us dynamic exercises that allowed pairs to mirror, communicate and create language from non-verbal cues.


  • Janet Pollock brought a real shovel as a metaphor for “digging deeper” to answer questions like “What do we learn when we make art?”  She also spoke of the Miwok Unit the third grade level had experienced through dance, craft, myth, creative writing and a public performance of understanding.


  • Kris Lerohl entranced our group with her stories of creating a “culture of reflection” in which 4th graders journal each day, participating in a morning meeting in which everyone gets to be heard.  She also highlighted the fourth grade arts integrated Gold Rush from Six Perspectives Unit,  its social and emotional truths felt in the final performance.


The group reflected on the workshop’s takeaways

Concepts: Creativity grows out of group process and takes time to mature. Then the product is better. Risk and comfort with exploring the “unknown” is part of the process. Dance is fun, but there are deep discoveries “under the fun” that come forth when we fully participate. The concept of many kinds of right and no wrong answers frees children. That celebration is important to building community; each has a gift to give that needs to be honored. The language of feelings is powerful and valuable. The meaning of an experience of learning comes from how we are changed by it. We must reflect and listen and write.


Activities:  The cinqain as a poetic form used to dance any idea, the moving paintbrush exercise based on Tai Chi, the Ashe Ceremony from Africa that creates community through contribution, the Circle Ceremony inspired by Native American sources, created by everyone, the” popcorn choreography” method in which spontaneous ideas are offered to a group, the use of Post It notes that capture multiple inquiries and ideas of a generative theme.


Creating a performance of understanding, a danced “silent movie,” its scenes telling a story about how and why and what happens.  Earth science, social studies, and the environment were chosen as unit theme ideas, but many more await. Full units could be built from these early integrations, using the concepts and methods above.  But most electric in all connections was the creative engagement of the moving learner, entering the story in the first person with wonder. This above all.


One overall suggestion was strongly expressed by the group-- the need for classroom teachers and teaching artists to be given more time to be in the same room, to simply collaborate, share arts integration, support each other’s explorations, acknowledge each other’s successes and make available their results to newer generations of participants. Some present were familiar with the many gifts of Project Zero, Eisner and these robust theories. Others were just arriving, exploring integration for the first time. We all felt the work of this institute should continue to bring all schools up to speed on the Big Idea it has begun.


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